|Curious about spiritual matters? I can help.|
Maintenon, as always, was at the office early. He was waiting for Tailler, checking messages on his desk, and waiting for the percolator to be done with its magic.
There was a knock.
“Hello. Come in.”
A priest entered, taking off the wide-brimmed black hat, and taking a quick look around. He seemed surprised to find Maintenon alone. He reached up, and hung the hat on the rack like it belonged there.
This was a confident little man. Up to a point.
“Er, hello, I am…my name is—”
“Ah, yes. That’s right.”
“So. You were a friend of Marko Dubzek.”
“Er, I suppose one could say that. And you’re Maintenon.”
Gilles stood and shook hands with the man.
“You weren’t a friend?’
“Er, no, ah, yes—I suppose one could say that.”
“So which is it.”
Gilles didn’t mean to be rude, exactly, so he moved over to the coffee area and set out two cups.
“One lump or two?’
“Ah, two, please.”
The spoon clinked as he stirred thoroughly, making the man sweat a little and also giving him a moment to think about it.
“I was his spiritual counselor. And over time, we did become friends…I suppose.”
To Maintenon’s eternal surprise, the Monsignor pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at moist eyes.
Maintenon set the cups down within easy reach and took his seat behind the desk.
“Please, Father. Sit down.”
“Smoke?” Maintenon proffered the silver case that Anne had given him for their twenty-fifth anniversary.
“Er, no, thank you—normally I wouldn’t, but these are trying times.” He accepted Gilles’ lighter as Maintenon observed.
He had his own pipe, tucked into a side pocket.
“Yes, they are. So. What can I do for you, Father?”
The door opened and Hubert came in, all full of life and cheerfulness. A look from Maintenon and he gave a quick nod, heading to the coffee and the cups.
The Monsignor took a quick look. With his cleft chin and wavy brown hair, Hubert was a good-looking young man, impeccably dressed as always. Statistically average in every way, somehow God had done a very good job of putting him together. Perhaps reassured by what he saw, the priest picked up his cup and had a tentative sip.
“You’re not going to like this, Inspector.”
Father Bazin didn’t seem all that comfortable with it either. He studied his pipe in a kind of unconscious surprise. It was that habitual, with a lump of smouldering, charred tobacco still in it.
Ignoring the lighter on the corner of the desk, a big kitchen match scratched, filling the room with sulphurous smoke.
One’s nostrils twitched, but it smelled good, too—reassuring in so many ways, bringing back a hundred memories somehow, not all of them good. Maintenon’s father had used kitchen matches.
They sat there smoking.
Maintenon waited, then spoke when it went on too long.
“We understand that you cannot violate the privacy of the confessional. And yet, anything that you can tell us, might be of help. Monsieur Dubzek, no matter who he was or anything he might have done…well. Under the law, no man has the legal right to take the life of another.” Certainly not without due process, and the full sanction of the state and the law.
War, maybe. But then—wars were such lawful things, and everybody made an effort to keep it looking that way.
Legalistic, he believed they called it.
Maintenon took his time, and opened up the dialogue.
The man had come on his own volition. Perhaps a little empathy—a little logic and persuasion.
He went on.
Without the law, there would be anarchy—the jungle. Those jungle ethics, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, as he put it, was bad enough in its natural environment—the jungle.
Bring it to life in a crowded city or a prosperous, settled nation. It would be a kind of hell on Earth, where all men feared their brothers and people huddled, armed to the teeth beside their campfires and waited for the inevitable attacks…wondering who among you would be the next to die, the next one to be killed.
Father Bazin nodded thoughtfully, listening well, and sipped his coffee.
“Hmn. Good. Sounds like you’re about ready for the truth.”
Gilles sat up a little straighter on this strange news, and then he settled more deeply into his seat.
Hubert made a few noises, obviously able to hear everything and sort of wondering if he should leave and give them a few minutes. He had the odd thought that they were like two peas in a pod…all squeezed in together and yet with different fates and a common outlook.
Unfortunately, he had a case-load of his own and he was falling behind. There was never enough time in the day and he had calls and visits to make. With a bit of luck he’d be locking up another killer by lunchtime.
He had a notebook full of scribbles. It was just as much his workspace as anyone else’s.
And yet, his own business was confidential, and there was a stranger to overhear any phone calls.
A pretty kind of problem, although he could go next door and use their phone—there would be questions from them too, of course.
The men ignored Hubert and it was all one could do, but to shrug sometimes, pick up the phone and dial the number. He kept his voice down, trying to catch every syllable from the other side of the room and doing two or three things at once…
Now, where is that stapler…
“Marko Dubzek was a fine human being. He was a very nice man. It’s true—he owned the building. And there was a brothel there.”
“A child brothel.”
“When he found out about it, he made a big mistake. He went to the owner.”
“Non.” He hesitated. “I’ve heard the name, of course. I mean a man named Duvall.”
Earnest eyes searched Gilles’.
“You came here to tell me something, Father. And, as you well know, confession is good for the soul—”
Bazin had the grace to blush.
“Yes. Yes it is.” The Father cleared his throat, eyes everywhere except on Maintenon’s. “Understand, we were friends. That only came after a while. We had some interesting conversations. But I swear on the Virgin, this is truth.”
“And he threatened them. He was pounding on the desk, shouting at them, calling them every name in the book. This is what he told me. You have to imagine how angry he was. This turned out to be a big mistake. And then, a very short time later, the police got involved. You guys were all over him…like a dirty shirt, as he put it.”
A little light went off in Maintenon’s head.
He swung his feet up onto the end of the desk.
They’d had an anonymous tip—with Dubzek mentioned by name.
“Dubois?” The tone was different this time.
“Ah—yes.” The father sipped coffee and flicked ashes. “I mean, probably.”
It was just a voice on a phone, giving information to anyone who picked up…that was all anybody knew. That was all the cops knew as well.
That was all Gilles had known at the time.
The father leaned back, and swung his feet up onto the desk.
They were friends, now.
It was that easy.
“Okay. Please tell us what happened.”
|Hubert: statistically average.|
Hubert dropped the file he was reading, eyebrows raised. With a piercing look from Maintenon, he picked up a pen and began taking a few quiet but copious notes, his pen scratching away.
Gilles sat there with one leg across the other, hands calmly folded in his lap.
“I’m not violating the sanctity of the confessional.” The Father might have eyes in the back of his head, but this sounded like it was for the record. “He told me all of this long after he first ran into me. After hearing the story, I kind of took an interest. Dubois, and Duvall, set out to destroy him, or perhaps, at the very least, to teach him a lesson. To put the fear of God into him, and, ah…they did a pretty good job of it. With a bit of help from the police department, I might add.”
“Yes. By that time we had become friends. Imagine it, two men, both single, both of a similar mind—that we are put here by God to do some good in the world, or at least, to leave it in the same condition in which we found it.” Father Bazin dabbed at his eyes again.
Maintenon studied him. He seemed quite sincere. It was hard to conceive of any other reason for his coming here and making these extraordinary statements. Not that he disagreed, exactly.
“Tell me, did you ever visit Marko at the nature camp?”
The father grinned. He laughed, eyes still watering.
He shook his head.
“No. Not my cup of tea, really.”
“Do you ever go out without the, er, habit—”
“No. I’m quite comfortable with the uniform. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s hot or cold out.” He grinned again. “There’s no such thing as an undercover priest.”
“Ah…what, er, what does a man like you do for entertainment?”
“Me?” He shrugged. “Well. I take long walks. I read books. I listen to the radio, and minister to my flock, which is actually quite small.”
It was mostly on paper, as he put it. He wasn’t unhappy with his lot in life.
“Honestly. After a time, Marko told me everything, and I suppose it was the same with me.”
So they really were friends.
One couldn’t tell them everything, of course. No one ever did.
“You must have some moments of isolation…loneliness.”
The father was an administrator. An ordained priest, he had initially been a Franciscan monk.
He’d sort of gotten bitten by the bug—ambitious, as he self-deprecatingly put it.
If one was sincere, it probably wasn’t much of a sin.
At this point, it was Maintenon’s turn to smile.
These days, Bazin was as much accountant as anything. He’d had his own church for twenty-four years and that experience was crucial for what he was doing now. He kept the books for the diocese, and inspected the accounts of churches around the diocese when there was a call for such a thing. He trained younger men, when they got their first church, and was always there to answer technical questions when they came up. The father had ended up in a dead-end, where he never really saw the people.
“How did you meet?”
“Marko was a member of my congregation, many years ago, and we ran into each other one day in the park.” Marko had a lot of questions, according to the priest.
There was a long silence as Maintenon thought about it.
“Any objection to giving us your fingerprints? I must assume that we will find some of your prints in Marko’s apartment.”
“No. Not at all.” His calm serenity seemed hard to shake, as if he had nothing to fear.
It was an interesting story, Duvall and Dubois, and Dubzek threatening them. It painted an entirely different picture of a man Maintenon had thought he understood.
It might also be true—
In which case—
Maintenon. Inspector Gilles Maintenon, although he had been a mere sergeant working Vice back then, was in some small way, responsible for some of the things that had happened to Monsieur Dubzek.
Some of the bad things.
We can always be wrong, of course.
Imagine being accused of something like that.
Imagine the police being after your ass for something like that.
“Who operated the brothel?”
“Claude. Claude Duvall. He seems to be the top dog.”
Maintenon’s guts seethed.
“Claude Duvall. Merde.”
That case was ten or twelve years old, dating to shortly after the War.
He’d made rapid promotion upon demobilization, upon coming back to the force, what with the general depopulation of the male gender in France over four years of nothing but shot and shell, a personal hell that never seemed to give up and let a man alone…
“Do you know if Marko had any other male friends?”
“Not really, but one must assume so. He talked about any number of other people. I mean, not all of our conversations were so…heavy.”
“Were you there Thursday night by any chance?”
“Ah, no. Ah, the Tuesday morning was the last time I saw him.”
“So what do you guys talk about?”
“Marko was deeply curious about spiritual matters. I have to admit, I’m a bit repetitive on the subject of the grace of God, forgiveness, and how a man should live in this world.”
“I see…” Sort of.
“Tell me, was Marko a good cook?”
“Yes, I think so. I really didn’t get to experience very much of it, but we had lunch one day and it was quite good.”
“Really. What did you have?”
“Home-made roasted potato and spring leek soup, steak and mushrooms in gravy, what he called his killer coleslaw…a tossed salad. He’d even made fresh bread.”
“Huh. Interesting. So. Tell me about the décor in there.”
“Ha. Yes. He did that not too long ago. Four or five years ago, no more than that. He might have been trying to shake things up in his life. It may have been a way of dealing with certain things…”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…well, the question of evil. He’d gone through some rather ugly experiences—and I don’t know, maybe it was just his way of thumbing his nose at evil—Satan, and the devil, and all of that.” The priest thought, and then went on. “He was wondering why bad things happen to good people. I think he must have been a little sheltered before that. I mean, with all of his money and everything. He’d never run into anything that he couldn’t handle on his own before. This time, it was different—and he was scared. Really scared, Inspector.”
“I see. So a few years later, maybe he’s gotten over it, and this was his way of showing that.”
“So you do understand.”
Not really, maybe—
There was more of course.
There always was.
There was a lot more—a lot.
(End of excerpt.)
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